The Sunday Times

Weav­ing Magic

She’s en­joyed soap star­dom, basked in the glow of Hol­ly­wood’s award sea­son and is about to take on an iconic Aus­tralian story. But life in the spot­light for Sa­mara Weav­ing has not al­ways been a pic­nic.

- Story Adri­enne Tam

Aim­less stu­dents of Aus­tralia, take heart. While sto­ries abound of high-achiev­ing adults re­call­ing how they knew what they wanted to do from their very first day of kinder­garten, not all suc­cess­ful adults had such an early sense of di­rec­tion. And, de­spite star­ring in one of the most ac­claimed and Os­car-win­ning films of the year, a role in a break­out tele­vi­sion se­ries, and a part in the up­com­ing re­boot of an iconic Aus­tralian tale, Sa­mara Weav­ing is one of them.

De­spite the hat-trick that has placed her atop the heap of highly sought af­ter, up-and-com­ing ac­tors mak­ing their mark on screens big and small, the Aus­tralian admits she isn’t sure how it all came to be.

“When I was around 10 or 11, I re­alised that (act­ing) was my favourite thing to do. But I didn’t think of it as a ca­reer un­til last year,” Weav­ing tells STM. “I was one of those stu­dents who, if I wasn’t in love with the sub­ject, it took me a re­ally long time to get mo­ti­vated to get good grades in it.”

Speak­ing from LA, her ac­cent re­mains un­mis­tak­ably Aus­tralian — even af­ter months spent play­ing Amer­i­cans. The US city is now home, and also where she was based dur­ing the re­cent awards sea­son, which found her jet­ting from event to event pro­mot­ing the Os­car-win­ning film Three Bill­boards Out­side Eb­bing, Mis­souri. It was a dizzy­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for the 26-year-old, who admits she didn’t re­alise she was a work­ing ac­tor un­til af­ter high school. “I just kept act­ing, and get­ting work, and I was lucky enough that I could keep go­ing,” she says. “I never had that con­ver­sa­tion with my­self: ‘Should I do this?’ It just fell into place — ran­domly.”

Still, her back­story in­di­cates she may have been bet­ter placed for her ca­reer than she knew. Aside from the fact that act­ing runs in her blood (more on that in a mo­ment), as a child she led the kind of no­madic life­style that can trig­ger the nec­es­sary cu­rios­ity that drives many in her cho­sen pro­fes­sion.

She was born in Ade­laide, but in her youth Weav­ing’s fam­ily lived in Fiji, In­done­sia and Sin­ga­pore, be­fore mov­ing home to Aus­tralia’s cap­i­tal, where she at­tended Can­berra Girls Gram­mar. It was there, as a “shy” stu­dent, she delved into drama and the arts be­fore mov­ing to Syd­ney in 2009 to take up the role of Indi Walker in Home And Away. Weav­ing would stay put in fic­tional Sum­mer Bay un­til 2013, be­com­ing a fa­mil­iar face to mil­lions.

Weav­ing cred­its her up­bring­ing for the lack of what-am-I-do­ing anx­i­ety. She moved from Syd­ney to London and then, even­tu­ally, to Los An­ge­les as she pur­sued new op­por­tu­ni­ties. They fi­nally started to ar­rive in 2015, when she won a few episodes on the hor­ror-com­edy se­ries Ash Vs Evil Dead. Then last year she had a key part in the first sea­son of the bruis­ing tele­vi­sion se­ries SMILF, which stars Rosie O’Don­nell and Con­nie Brit­ton, and airs in Aus­tralia on Stan. While she says she

en­joys life in LA, there are the usual down­sides — namely, the dis­tance from friends and fam­ily. “It’s hard,” she admits. “But I try and get back (to Aus­tralia) as much as pos­si­ble.”

As for those fam­ily con­nec­tions to the in­dus­try, her fa­ther Si­mon Weav­ing is a di­rec­tor and scriptwrit­er, and her un­cle is veteran ac­tor Hugo Weav­ing, who first made his name lo­cally in the 1989 minis­eries Bangkok Hil­ton and 1991’s Proof. Beyond Aus­tralia, he came to no­tice for the Lord Of The Rings tril­ogy, The Ma­trix and, of course, The Ad­ven­tures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert. Yet just last month, Weav­ing told Women’s Health mag­a­zine that she didn’t re­alise her un­cle was a house­hold name when she was grow­ing up.

But as Hugo re­cently told STM, he’s not holding a grudge that his fame was seem­ingly lost on his niece. “When you’re a kid, you’re locked in your own world,” he says. “It’s a won­der­ful state when you’re more innocent, more im­me­di­ate, more in­stinc­tive and less aware of other peo­ple. If Sam grew up see­ing me as daggy Un­cle Hugo, then that’s good, isn’t it?”

Yet there was no such non­cha­lance when she met Frances McDor­mand, this year’s Best Ac­tress Os­car win­ner. What even­tu­ated was a mas­ter­class in how to han­dle fame — and the pres­ence of younger ac­tors ea­ger to take a few cues. “(McDor­mand) gave me a big hug and said, ‘Oh, wel­come’,” Weav­ing re­calls of the first time she met her Three Bill­boards co-star. “She was so friendly and she knew ev­ery­one’s name on set. She took ev­ery­one un­der her wing. It was just such fun. She re­ally made you feel com­fort­able.” She was, Weav­ing says, “like a re­ally cool mum”.

The ride for Three Bill­boards — in which Weav­ing has a small but scene-steal­ing role — took her to ev­ery ma­jor cer­e­mony along the months-long awards cir­cuit, in­clud­ing the Os­cars, the Golden Globes and the Screen Ac­tors Guild Awards, where she and her co-stars earned stat­uettes for Out­stand­ing Per­for­mance by a Cast in a Mo­tion Picture. Stand­ing on­stage with the rest of the cast at the SAGs was a real “pinch me” mo­ment. “I’m just so grate­ful I was there,” she says. “I think I’m still in shock and de­nial about it re­ally.”

So, what about those af­ter­par­ties teem­ing with A-lis­ters — the ones that look like the most ex­clu­sive and ex­cit­ing gath­er­ings imag­in­able? Weav­ing likens them to an awk­ward work Christ­mas party where drunk col­leagues wreak havoc on the dance floor and spill too many truths. “I have one drink and then I go home be­cause I’m a bit over­whelmed,” she says. “I don’t want to say some­thing stupid to some­one that I ad­mire.”

Weav­ing was also in­ducted dur­ing a sea­son that, while cel­e­bra­tory, was also tem­pered with a som­bre mood and re­flec­tion given the sex­ual ha­rass­ment scan­dals that blew wide open in Hol­ly­wood late last year. From the all-black dress code and Oprah Win­frey’s rous­ing ac­cep­tance speech at the Golden Globes, to McDor­mand’s own thought-pro­vok­ing men­tion of an eq­uity-en­sur­ing “in­clu­sion rider” at the Os­cars, Weav­ing had a front-row seat to an in­dus­try in the midst of a revo­lu­tion. And it forced the young ac­tor to re­flect — per­haps more than she may have ex­pected when she first landed in town. “There’s this darker un­der­belly of all these hor­rific sto­ries com­ing out about the abuse of power to­wards women. But I think the sil­ver lin­ing is how we’ve all come to­gether. We’re try­ing to make a change,” she says. “And we re­ally need to make those changes. (See­ing) just how loyal women are, how fierce they are, how they’re not back­ing down, and re­ally try­ing to fig­ure out what the so­lu­tion to this prob­lem is . . . We should tell our sto­ries and make sure we pre­vent it from hap­pen­ing again.”

As her star rose, Weav­ing ex­pe­ri­enced another un­wel­come rite of pas­sage — by be­ing pit­ted against another young blonde woman and for­mer Aus­tralian soap star who has ex­pe­ri­enced great suc­cess in Hol­ly­wood.

As the ac­co­lades for Three Bill­boards started to flow in, so too did the in­evitable com­par­isons to another home­grown dar­ling of the Acad­emy Awards, Best Ac­tress nom­i­nee Mar­got Rob­bie. “Move over, Mar­got! Rob­bie risks be­ing out­shone by another blonde Aus­tralian as Sa­mara Weav­ing’s Three Bill­boards beats I, Tonya at the SAG Awards,” read one head­line.

Rest as­sured, Weav­ing tells STM, no such ri­valry ex­ists. In­stead, she in­sists, the whole thing is “very mun­dane”. Weav­ing says: “(She’s) re­ally lovely. She’s a great ac­tress. I’m flat­tered that peo­ple mis­take me for her. That’s a great com­pli­ment. I hope that peo­ple re­alise pit­ting two women against each other is just silly.”

Rather than buy­ing into the drama, Weav­ing is let­ting her work do the talk­ing: her lat­est project, a reimag­in­ing of Joan Lind­say’s 1967 novel Pic­nic At Hang­ing Rock, fol­lows three young women who


mys­te­ri­ously dis­ap­pear on a school out­ing on Valen­tine’s Day, 1900. Pe­ter Weir’s eerie 1975 film of the same name has long been con­sid­ered one of the best Aus­tralian movies of all time. This time around it’s a bold, candy-coloured and fiercely fem­i­nist re­think for a mod­ern au­di­ence. In the new six-part se­ries, to air on Foxtel next month, di­rec­tor Larysa Kon­dracki piv­ots away from the iconic film and uses the length­ier run time to delve deeper into the novel. The se­ries boasts a smat­ter­ing of dark com­edy, elab­o­rate cos­tum­ing and pro­duc­tion de­sign —not to men­tion a litany of strong, com­plex women as its lead char­ac­ters.

Weav­ing says that last bit is ex­actly what drew her to the project in the first place. “A pe­riod piece like this brings aware­ness to the au­di­ence of what these women and men had to go through. Es­pe­cially for the women — just how op­pressed they were, yet it was the norm,” she says. “These were teenage girls; they wanted to wear pretty dresses and break free of all re­straints so­ci­ety put on them. They were stuck there, and all they had was each other. It’s won­der­ful that the friend­ships be­tween the women were so strong. I think that’s a good re­minder of what women who came af­ter them fought for, and how lucky we are to have ev­ery­thing we do now. But we should keep fight­ing for equal­ity.”

Se­ries di­rec­tor Kon­dracki con­sid­ers Weav­ing a “knock­out tal­ent” who made the char­ac­ter of Irma her own. “There is such a fierce drive to be cre­ative and chal­lenge her­self,” Kon­dracki says. “She’s not there for the wrong rea­sons and she’s hun­gry. To me, that’s the best thing you can hope for in an ac­tor — some­one who wants to be there and comes to play. There was noth­ing that she wouldn’t ex­plore, and this was a chal­leng­ing role. I’m ex­cited to see what kind of choices she makes next, and for a long time. She’s the real deal.” Pic­nic At Hang­ing Rock pre­mieres 6.30pm Sun­day, May 6, on Foxtel’s Show­case chan­nel.

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 ??  ?? Clock­wise from left: Sa­mara Weav­ing Pic­nic at with co-star Lily Sul­li­van in Hang­ing Rock;
with co-star John
Three Bill­boards Out­side Hawkes in Ep­ping, Mis­souri; SMILF; in on the red car­pet at this year’s Os­cars cer­e­mony.
Clock­wise from left: Sa­mara Weav­ing Pic­nic at with co-star Lily Sul­li­van in Hang­ing Rock; with co-star John Three Bill­boards Out­side Hawkes in Ep­ping, Mis­souri; SMILF; in on the red car­pet at this year’s Os­cars cer­e­mony.
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